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Liverpool Leading Lady

I’m not as English as I once thought.

My father and I were talking about having corned beef and cabbage for Saint Patrick’s Day and I said that it would be worth the effort, “Even though there’s not an ounce of Irish blood in us,” to which my father replied, “I’m half Irish.”

Oh. Really?

Well, then we certainly should have some corned beef and cabbage and throw in a loaf Irish soda bread while we’re at it.

Now, I was perfectly justified in thinking that I was English. My great-grandparent and company were all born in Liverpool. Well, there’s a story behind that.

It just so happens that I am not the first actress in my family. My grandmother Kathleen was certainly one of the most dramatic people I knew, but her grandmother certainly takes the gold.

For many, many years being Irish was not nearly as grand as being English and my great-great grandmother thought she could do something about that. When the time came to give birth to each baby in her brood, she would go to Liverpool, have her child, and then go back to her homestead in Ireland. Doing this made her English (In her mind, of course). She did the baby act a few times and it was not easy, but the performance must have been worth it.

So, in honor of her and her wild antics, I adapted Nick Malgieri’s recipe for Irish Soda Bread Muffins. Don that green apron of yours and bake some up this weekend.

Irish Soda Bread Muffins

Makes 12 standard muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour     1 ½ teaspoons baking powder    ½ teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted    ¼ cup sugar    1 large egg    1 ¼ cups buttermilk

¾ cup raisins, currants, or cranberries tossed with 1 tablespoon flour

confectioner’s sugar    vanilla extract    half-n-half

  1. Set a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat to 350 F.
  2. Line your muffin tin with paper liners.
  3. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the butter and sugar. Whisk in the egg and ½ of the buttermilk. Gently stir in ½ of the flour mixture and then add the remaining buttermilk.
  5. Stir in the dried fruit and then the rest of the flour mixture.
  6. Spoon the batter in to the muffin cups and bake for about 30 minutes or until the muffins have a touch of gold and are firm to the touch.
  7. Allow the muffins to cool on a wire rack.
  8. Mix together a cup of confectioner’s sugar, two tablespoons of half-n-half, and one tablespoon of vanilla. Add liquid or sugar until you get a nice consistency. Drip the icing over cooled muffins and allow the icing to harden. The muffins should look glazed.

Really?

What’s this? Gingerbread was an early baby food? That’s what I’ve read. I would cite my sources, but I’d rather be lazy now.

Just don’t tell my students.

But yes, gingerbread was given to German babies. The mothers would let it harden and then crush it into a powder and add the powder to milk or water.

How fantastic. Gingerbread does seem awfully wholesome to me—even medicinal. And what happy babies!

After I read about the gingerbread powder, I pinched off a hearty portion to accompany my morning coffee and my baby boy happily received any bits his papa had to offer.

And you can have some of this excellent stuff if you do one of two things:

1. Order it from Maddy Lu’s.

2. Follow the following recipe and bake your own.

The choice is yours. Make a good one.

This gingerbread comes from the fabulous Lynne Rossetto Kasper. She, along-with Sally Swift, includes this recipe in their book The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper.

Dark and Moist Gingerbread

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

1 generous teaspoon baking soda    1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ground ginger    3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves   1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted    3/4 cup mild or dark molasses

3/4 cup very hot water (190F)   1/3 tight-packed cup dark brown sugar

1 large egg

1. Preheat the oven top 350 F. Butter and flour an 8-inch square pan.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper.

3. Beat together the butter, molasses, hot water, and brown sugar. When the mixture is almost frothy, beat in the egg and gradually add the flour blend. Stir until blended.

4. Pour batter into pan and bake for 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

5. For a moist cake, cool in the pan on a rack. For a drier cake, cool for 10 in the pan and then turn it out of the pan and cool on a rack.

Serve this with a puff of whipped cream and  a dab of lemon curd.

Brown-Bier-Weizen-Brot

Butter melting in the skillet, beautiful baby white potatoes ready to dip in, crusty bread, red wine. Ah.

Josh and Sophie are playing “Catch Me” in the yard.

I was almost caught while sneaking out to gather some herbs.

And so the year of the bread continues with a loaf with roots–my  German roots. German food is good any time of year but the fall calls for pale boiled potatoes, luscious meats, pungent cheeses, good beer, and equally good bread.

I found a fantastic recipe for brown beer bread in an old Cooking Light magazine that a friend brought over. If you could have tasted the air in my kitchen while I was putting this bread together…oh my. Josh walked in while I was punching down the dough and commented on how much it smelled like Würzburg. I agreed.

Josh and I spent a bit of time in Germany over the Christmas holiday one year.

We had a ticket in to Frankfurt and a ticket out of Nuremberg. That was it. No reservations, no plans, nothing. It was up to us to make our way across the bottom of Germany. Without knowing German.

Oh but Germany during the holidays was enchanting and Würzburg was possibly one of the loveliest places of all.

We stayed in a charming bed and breakfast that had a dining room which served supper and was open to the public. And the German public came.

While we traveled, we had a rule: speak as little as possible. (We learned as much of the native language as we could, but knew our accents would give us away.) This worked quite well, except for when it came to ordering off menus. Waiters always discovered our secret.

At the inn in Würzburg, the waiter pretty much chose our meals for us and what a fine job he did. The brown beer bread recipe brings many of those flavors I experienced while in Germany together in one hearty loaf. I hope you get the chance to make this bread. If not, you’ll just have to book a flight to Schönes Deutschland.

Brown Beer Wheat Bread

1 tablespoon olive oil     1/2 cup chopped onion

1 1/8 teaspoons sugar, divided   2 packages dry yeast (about 4 1/2 teaspoons)

3/4 cup warm brown beer (100 to 110 degrees)    1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt

1 tablespoon white vinegar     1 1/2 teaspoon salt     1 large egg, lightly beaten

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided     1 cup whole wheat flour (or rye)

cooking spray     1 teaspoon water     1 large egg white, lightly beaten

1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, sauté 4 minutes until golden brown. Set onions aside to cool.

2. Warm beer (I used the microwave). Dissolve 1/8 teaspoon sugar and the yeast in the beer. Let stand for 5 minutes.

3. Stir yogurt,vinegar, and salt into the beer mixture. Add remaining 1 teaspoon sugar and egg. Stir with a whisk. If you would like to make a rye bread, this is when you would add 1 tablespoon of caraway seeds.

4. Add 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour and the whole wheat flour to the yeast mixture and stir until a soft dough forms. Stir in the onions.

5. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 8 minutes or until smooth and elastic, adding enough of the remaining flour to keep the dough from being too sticky to handle. Add 1 tablespoon at a time.

6. Coat a large bowl with cooking spray. Place dough in the bowl and turn once over to coat the loaf with the oil.

7. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel and let rise it in a warm place, free from drafts for about 45 minutes or until it has doubled in size.

8. Punch the dough down and let it rest for 5 minutes.

9. Shape the dough into a 12-inch oval loaf and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover the loaf with plastic wrap and let it rise for another 30 minutes or until it has doubled again.

10. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

11. Combine 1 teaspoon water and the egg white in a small bowl. Brush the egg mixture over the loaf.

12. Bake the loaf for 28 minutes or until golden brown and sounds hollow when you give it a tap.

13. Cool on a wire rack.

*Adapted from Cooking Light, September 2006.

Here a Gab…

Here a Gabba, there a Gabba…

Everywhere a Gabba, Gabba….

Who would’ve thought I’d be so involved with robots and monsters?

Little eyes and little lips…

Sophie is turning 3 soon. She wants a pink cake with purple flowers on it. That’s it. No eyeballs, no shaggy green hair. No 3-dimensional princess. She doesn’t even want Kipper on it.

A pink cake with purple flowers? What will I do with myself? (Besides make French baguettes…)

I think I’ll manage.

Something So Delicious

Oh no.

Another amazingly, scrumptious frozen delicacy.

And it’s not a frozen pumpkin pie.

I may never have to buy it in the store again.

Never.

And I didn’t need any fancy equipment.

Big plus.

I made it myself (sounds like my toddler).

I made the good stuff that’s good any time of the day but especially late at night on a hot day.

(I almost typed “hot date.” Ha. I guess it could be good on one of those too.)

I made the tasty treat that I’ve loved every day of my life except for the 270 that I was pregnant with Asher. (Absurd, but I couldn’t look at the stuff.)

I made….

Ice cream.

And so should you.

A chocolate ice cream that’s smooth and ridiculously rich. For you. I almost don’t want to share this. But that wouldn’t be right, would it? Sharing is what blogs are for. Right?

The ice cream is excellent as is, but I recommend adding one or all of the following to the recipe:

peanut butter, toasted chopped nuts, miniature marshmallows, bits of mint cookie, crushed toffee…

I think you get the idea.

The recipe comes from the fabulous Cook’s Country Magazine.

Easy Chocolate Ice Cream

1 teaspoon instant coffee or espresso powder

1 tablespoon hot water

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine

1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

pinch salt

1 1/4 cups cold heavy cream

1. Combine the coffee powder and hot water in a bowl. Let it stand for about 5 minutes until the coffee dissolves.

2. Microwave the chocolate, milk, and coffee mixture in a bowl for 1 minute, stirring every 10 seconds.

3. Stir vanilla and salt into chocolate bowl. Let cool.

4. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the cream for about 2 minutes until you see soft peaks.

5. Whisk 1/3 of the cream into the chocolate mixture.

6. Fold the remaining cream into the chocolate mixture until incorporated.

7. Freeze in an airtight container for at least 6 hours.

Pastry for Pleasure

Two nine-inch chocolate rounds. Two dozen biscotti. Two sticks of butter. Two eggs. Two cups of sugar. Two crying babies. Two more nibbles of cookie and I’m there.

But what about pastry?

Pastry for pastry’s sake? Yes, birthday cakes and birthday biscotti, but pastry? For kicks?

I feel like I’ve been waiting for this day for so long.

As I gather the ingredients and set up the processor, I have doubts. Can this happen? Can we go from start to finish here?

Asher is lying on his back, cooing at his rattle, while Sophie reads quietly in the parlor.

REALLY?!

I found myself holding my breath as I cut the  butter into 1/2 inch pieces. Dare to proceed? Once the butter’s cut, it’s a done deal. There’s no turning back.

Pulse, pulse, pulse. Twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two. 

I check on the kids.

They’re fine. Wow.

Back to work.

Pulse, pulse, pulse. Thirty-one pulses and we’re in a ball. I don’t deserve this!

Out onto the floured surface and we’re pressing and rolling and pressing and rolling. Gently but swiftly.

The cut apples simmered in their own juices. A dash of cinnamon  and they’re perfection.

The entire process was just that–a process, but it was well worth it.

The house erupted after I set the dough in the fridge to rest. But I could handle it. The dough was safe. That’s what mattered.

In a few hours, I had the joy of tearing off the corner of my very own apple turnover. The steam ran out and I smiled. I tore the corner piece into smaller bits and savored each one. Oh, the pleasures of pastry.

Nick Malgieri, the king of pastry, has a fantastic quick puff pastry recipe in his book How to Bake. I highly recommend the recipe along-with his recipes for pan breads and pie crust. If you want to make turnovers, use about 2/3rds of this dough, along-with a filling consisting of 4 large cooking apples, 1/3 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Beat an egg with a pinch of salt and brush the perimeter of a 6-inch square. Fill one half of the square, fold it, pinch it, and brush with the egg mixture. Slash a 1-inch vent hole in the top and bake at 350 for about 20 or 25 minutes.

Nick Malgieri’s Quickest Puff Pastry

10 ounces (2 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter                                   1/2 cup cold tap water                                          1 teaspoon salt

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1. Cut 2 sticks of butter into 1/2- to 1/4-inch pieces and refrigerate.

2. In a small bowl, stir the salt into the water until dissolved. Set aside.

3. Coarsely dice the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. Place the flour in a food processor. Add the 4 tablespoons of butter and pulse until the butter is absorbed–about ten 1-second pulses.

4. Add the chilled butter and pulse once or twice to distribute. Add the water and salt mixture and pulse until the dough forms a rough ball. (This took me 31 pulses.)

5. Turn the dough out onto a flour work surface. Shape the dough into a rough rectangle and place between 2pieces of plastic wrap. Press the dough with a rolling pin to flatten, then roll back and forth to make a 12 x 18-inch rectangle.

6. Peel off the top layer of plastic wrap and turn the dough out onto the floured work surface. Peel away the second piece of wrap. Fold the two into thirds to make a 4 x 18-inch rectangle, then roll the dough up from one of the 4-inch ends.

7. Press the dough out into a 6 -inch square.

8. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour, or until firm.

Oh yes.

Oh and here are some photos of a retro bridal shower Maddy Lu baked for.

We had a grand time.

Backpacks and Brown Bags

Freshly-cut lawns, brand-new sneakers, newly-sharpened pencils. I love these smells. Even the diesel exhaust from the school buses. I could eat it. Mmm…maybe not. But I do love it.

When I think of the start of the new school year, my mind’s nose sniffs.

Anticipation.  Feelings of anticipation that make you so jumpy there’s no need for coffee.

I was bouncing around the house Tuesday as Josh got ready for school. “You’re not even going in today,” he said after I leaped from the bathroom to our bedroom where he was pressing his trousers.  No, I wasn’t going in. I don’t teach Tuesday/Thursdays this semester, but I was pumped. Really pumped.

I love school. I always have. I was probably one of the most enthusiastic school-goers of all time. I was the darling child who would scrape gum off of the bottoms of the desks if the teacher asked me to. I went in early to clap erasers and take down chairs. I stayed late to grade papers (shhhh!) and take down old bulletin boards.  I’m sure I was hideously annoying to my peers, but nothing could cool my passion for school.

Maybe that’s why I teach now. Maybe that’s why I made my two-year-old play kindergarten with me to ring in the new year.

It lasted for 15 minutes. And for the last 10 she was the teacher. How did that happen? “Now, I want you to write E,” she would tell me over and over again. Once, I tried to play along but she snatched the paper from me. Unacceptable work. I guess I need to practice my letters.

I had my dress and shoes ready to go. I had my briefcase with my folders and syllabi. I still needed to test my dry erase markers. I never seem to get around to that. Fortunately, my students are always gracious.

To beat the jitters, I made granola. I make granola once a week, so it’s become a rather soothing ritual. And this granola is the best I’ve had and the most versatile (eat it by the handful, sprinkle it onto cooked oatmeal, add it to your cereal, yogurt, ice cream or applesauce).

Maple Nut Granola

3 cups rolled oats

1 cup dried, shredded coconut

1 cup nuts (Chopped walnuts, slivered almonds, and quartered pecans are best.)

1/2 cup pure maple syrup (go ahead and use the other sort if that’s what you have.)

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar

2 tablespoons molasses (Optional, but highly recommended.)

1/4 cup pepitas (optional.)

3/4 teaspoon coarse salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon nutmeg

3/4 teaspoon cloves

Dash of pure vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat your oven to 300*. In a large bowl, mix the oats, coconut, nuts, syrup, olive oil, brown sugar, molasses, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and vanilla. Pour the mixture onto a rimmed baking sheet and spread it out. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden.

If you’d like dried fruit in your granola, feel free to add 1/2 cup of it to the mix after the oats are crisp and golden and bake the granola for 10 more minutes.